‘Volunteer’ coach not unfairly dismissed

The Fair Work Commission has upheld the objection of a state football federation, after one of its junior coaches decided to make an unfair dismissal claim last year.

The coach was the head coach of an under-13 girls football side.  He was required to attend training sessions a number of times a week, as well as games and tournaments.  The coach was required to sign a Voluntary Services Agreement.

He was paid an honorarium, in two instalments, for the expenses incurred by him in his position.  During the 2016 season, the federation stopped the coach from coaching and confirmed the termination of his contract.  He was not paid the second instalment of the honorarium.

The coach made an unfair dismissal claim.

Commissioner Roe considered the indicia that need to be satisfied for a person to be an employee.  In this case, he found that the indicia did not give a clear result, with factors pointing both towards volunteer status and employee status.

In the end, the Commissioner determined that the coach was a volunteer and not an employee.  He stated:

“[12] I am satisfied that in this case the balance is towards a volunteer not an employee/employer relationship. The mutual intention of the parties in the formal legal contract is clearly to establish a volunteer relationship and not an employee relationship. The strong level of control over the work to be performed and the standard of that work is not inconsistent with a volunteer relationship in the context of an organisation like the Football Federation which organises team sports on a not for profit basis. There is little in this case that suggests that the contract is a sham to prevent [the employee]  from achieving his rights as an employee…”

This decision will be a relief to sporting organisations who regularly adopt these honorarium practices.  However, this decision should serve as a reminder to sporting organisations that the line between employee and volunteer in such situations can be a narrow one and that the nature of the relationship should be clearly identified by the parties at the outset of the engagement.

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